Mariners fail drug tests at higher rate

More mariners tested positive for drugs than their counterparts in the airline and railroad industries, the latest federal statistics show.

Consequently, the U.S. Coast Guard requires that 50 percent of covered crewmembers be randomly tested for drugs in 2005. Random drug testing of mariners in 2003 — the latest year available — showed positive results 2.07 percent of the time, the Coast Guard said in a notice published in late December in the Federal Register.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration have to test only 25 percent of their workers since positive results were less than 1 percent for two consecutive years.  

The mariners’ positive rate has generally been about 2 percent, said Doug Rabe, chief of the marine investigating division at the Coast Guard. The percentage is based on 46,000 tests.

Rabe said he doesn’t know why the  failure rate for mariners is higher. Testing for all agencies are the same.

“Any positive drug test on an individual in a safety-sensitive position, to me, is troubling,” he said. 

All commercial vessels are included in the tests that are done for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and PCP as well as separately for alcohol. A safety-sensitive person is anyone who has anything to do with operating the vessel, Rabe said.

Individuals who test positive are taken to a licensing or documentation hearing to make sure they don’t operate a vessel until they have completed rehabilitation, he said.

When mariner drug testing first began, some companies reported 10 to 15 percent positive rate. “Two percent is better, but it’s still troubling,” Rabe said.                   — D.K. DuPont 

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